Wednesday, April 8, 2020

My haul from Annie's Annuals (4/4/20)

As you might have read in my previous post, I went to Annie's Annuals in Richmond, CA last Saturday. Properly gloved and masked and observing social distancing protocols, I slowly wandered through the nursery, loading my cart with plants that were on my wish list as well as some others that caught my eye.

The Agave colorata in the photo below falls into the “caught my eye” category. I've had many Agave colorata over the years, but virtually all over them turned out to be rather generic-looking. The search for the perfect Agave colorata is ongoing: I'm looking for one that doesn't pup excessively, has a symmetrical rosette, and features pronounced banding. It exists; the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson had one a few years ago.

I picked out the Agave colorata seedling below from about three dozen because it has a symmetrical rosette, wide leaves, well-developed marginal teeth, and a twisted terminal spine. I'm hoping this will turn into a beautiful swan someday.

Agave colorata

Monday, April 6, 2020

Annie's Annuals mental-health outing

California continues to be under a shelter-in-place order because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since I work at home, my life during the week hasn't changed all that much. It's on the weekends that I notice the restrictions the most. It's not like public life has stopped altogether, but everything requires a lot more planning: Do I have disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and, most recently, my mask? Since I don't go out every day, the new routine hasn't become routine for me, and I hope it won't have to.

Strictly speaking, nursery visits aren't exactly necessary outings. However, I figure anything that improves my mental health is at least somewhat essential. Using that reasoning as an excuse, I made the one-hour drive to Annie's Annuals in Richmond on an eerily un-busy Interstate 80. I knew that Annie's had a solid social distancing protocol in place. Customers are requested to stay 3-6 ft. away from other customers (and staff) as they pass them, and the size of the nursery does allow for that. In the checkout area, belt dividers separate the customers from the employees; cash is not accepted, and you insert your credit card in a reader the employee holds out to you, so your card isn't touched by anybody else.

Another new thing: a couple of handwashing stations at the entrance where customers are requested to wash their hands as they arrive and leave

Friday, April 3, 2020

Sights in the garden that make me feel better

With everything going on in the world and no light yet at the end of the long dark tunnel that is COVID-19, it's a challenge to stay positive. Fortunately, things are a little easier for us gardeners. Sheltering in place, we can quickly step outside and find, if not comfort, then at least distraction in the environment we've created. It may not sound like much, but for me, it's huge. Within a few minutes, I'm usually able to refocus.

Here are some vignettes that caught my eye today:

Vriesea fosteriana 'Red Chestnut'

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Meet Tofu!

On Thursday we welcomed a new family member. Meet Tofu:


Tofu is an American bulldog × Labrador retriever mix. The shelter we adopted him from says he's 4 years old, but we think he may actually be younger.

Tofu is the name the shelter had given him, and it looks that'll be his permanent name (although I've started calling him Tofino). He's a big block of extra firm tofu, that's for sure.

The first thing we noticed when we met him at the shelter was how affectionate he is. That's pretty remarkable, considering the life he must have had (we actually know nothing about his past history). He likes to know where everybody is and checks in periodically. We're giving him all the reassurance he needs in this transition phase.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Life in the time of the coronavirus

I was supposed to be in Phoenix, Arizona last week for the Desert Botanical Garden's big plant sale—think thousands upon thousands of plants to choose from! The day before my flight, however, I decided not to go because the reported number of coronavirus cases was growing exponentially and the risk of getting infected at the airport, on the plane, in the hotel, or elsewhere in public seemed too great. In hindsight, that proved to be the right decision because the Desert Botanical Garden ended up canceling the plant sale and California governor Gavin Newsom ordered all residents to shelter in place.

Before we were able to hunker down in Davis, my wife and I made a quick down-and-back trip to Southern California to pick up daughter #2 from college. All her spring quarter classes were moved online, and students were encouraged to leave the dorms.

The freeways were eerily empty. Mostly trucks—actually, a lot of trucks!


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Agave Garden at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

I was going to be in Phoenix, Arizona this week but I had to cancel my plans because of COVID-19. So instead of looking at desert plants in person, I'm catching you up on some of the things I saw on my previous trip in late December 2019.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) in Tucson is a personal favorite. I always make time for a visit, even if it's just for a few hours. A few weeks ago, I wrote about potted specimen plants and the Cactus Garden at the ADSM. Today I want to show you the Agave Garden. It was restored from the ground up a few years ago, with a brand-new artificial rock island in the center that allows even small species to shine.

Agave parrasana in blue pot, Agave nickelsiae on the right, with Agave tequilana in the very back

Monday, March 16, 2020

What's in bloom and other garden sightings, mid-March 2020

I always seem to miss Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, started by Carol “Keeper of the World's Largest Collection of Hoes” Michel of May Dreams Gardens, but this month I'm reasonably close.

🎕 🎕 🎕 🎕 🎕

The aloes are continuing their winter flower fest. Many of them are past their peak, but they're still pretty even now. A few Australian natives are contributing to this month's Bloom Day as well. We finally had some rain, so who knows what might develop in the weeks ahead!

Flowers or not, this is one my favorite vignettes in the garden

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Colorful plastic animals at the Desert Botanical Garden

Question: What did you see at the Desert Botanical Garden?
Answer: Colorful plastic animals.
Question: Colorful plastic animals?
Answer: Colorful plastic animals.

Yes, indeed. Expect to see lots of colorful plastic animals if you visit the Desert Botanical Gardens (DBG) in Phoenix, AZ between now and May 10, 2020. Depending on how you feel about such things—whether you like art in gardens, how you define art, and what your general preferences are—you may do a happy dance, you may shake your head in disbelief or resignation, or you may actively cuss in disgust.

As a public service, here are lots of photos of lots of colorful plastic animals from my visit to the DBG in late December.

Arguably, the DBG's entrance ramada—usually a dull spot in a garden that's anything but dull— has never looked this lively

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Beginning of the end: Agave 'Mad Cow' starting to bloom

In the olden days, agaves were called “century plants” because people thought it would take a hundred years for them to flower. That's not quite the case, seeing how most agave species flower within 5 to 20 years.

Yet the flowering of an agave is still a bit of an event—one that's as bitter as it's sweet. Agaves have a flair for drama and produce impressive flower stalks. They might be 4 feet tall in a dwarf species like Agave × arizonica, or 25 feet in a giant like Agave salmiana. As a matter of fact, agaves put everything they've got into this undertaking, to the point where's simply nothing left when all is said and done. That's why most agave species die after they've finished flowering.

Agave 'Mad Cow', a hybrid between Agave bovicornuta (the cow's horn agave) and Agave colorata

I may look dorkily cheerful in this photo—it truly is exciting to see such a big flower stalk emerge—but I feel wistful at the same time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

More agave/aloe musical chairs in our garden

This post continues where Propping up a large leaning Aloe globuligemma × marlothii left off. In fact, in the two photos below, you can see the newly erect aloe in the upper left:

Agave pumila in the center

As I mentioned in my Aloe globuligemma × marlothii post, the next plant I was going to tackle was the Agave pumila nearby, seen in the center and bottom of the two photos above. This agave sustained quite a bit of damage from rot in the extra wet winter of 2016/2017 but pulled through. While I respect its resilience, its time had come—I just wasn't “feeling” it anymore the way I once had. With in-ground real estate at a premium, I've become quite brutal at rotating out plants no longer in favor.